Bill to set minimum marriage age to 18 stalls in Washington
Apr 18, 2023, 6:48 AM | Updated: 8:38 am
(Photo from KIRO 7)
A bill in Washington state to establish a minimum marriage age of 18 has stalled again in the Legislature.
According to nonprofit organization Unchained At Last, between 2000 and 2018 nearly 300,000 children were married in the U.S., and most of the marriages were between girls and adult men.
In Washington state, 4,831 people younger than age 18 were married between 2000 and 2018, according to the organization. And Washington is one of just a handful of states that don’t specify a minimum age for marriage.
House Bill 1455 seemed to have momentum in early March, when it unanimously passed the Washington House. But it languished in the Senate, where it didn’t get voted out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee in time to meet a deadline, The Seattle Times reported.
This year, states including West Virginia and Wyoming raised their minimum marriage ages to 18, with some exceptions. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s minimum marriage age is 17 while in Idaho the minimum age is 16, according to the organization.
Children of any age can still get married in Washington state. If they’re 17, they can do so with parental consent, and if they’re younger than that, they need approval from a judge.
“Almost always,” the people forcing children to marry are their own parents, according to Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last.
Many Americans aren’t aware that child marriage is an issue here, Reiss said. She explained that there’s no organized opposition to ending child marriage, but state lawmakers haven’t prioritized changing the law.
“I think it’s still happening because it’s an issue that is primarily impacting girls,” Reiss said. “And legislators are not known for prioritizing girls’ issues … And because most Americans are unaware of this, they’re not hearing from their own constituents saying, ‘What the hell? You need to change this.’”
Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra of Redmond, who is chair of the Law and Justice Committee, told the newspaper she had to evaluate which of the 65 bills that were sent to her committee needed to pass this year.
“I look forward to giving it a hearing next session,” Dhingra said.
The legislative session ends Sunday and lawmakers will convene again in early 2024.